From my experience riding the Porcupine Rim trail into Moab a few weeks back, my love of riding single track on this bike has fully developed. As such, the days of riding 100 miles or more back to back, covering large distances in short spans of time, have been on pause. There are too many amazing places that are very close to one another here in Utah, and it feels like it would be a crime to pass on something potentially fantastic simply due to an egotistical attitude that I wouldn’t be covering enough ground (Granted, of course I do have said egotistical attitude screaming at times among the chorus of voices in my head). Since entering Utah, I’ve been lucky enough to spend about 1/2 of this month riding amazing single track unloaded (without all my touring bags), increasing the fun factor exponentially. Even though my unloaded bike weighs about 15 pounds more than most other people’s mountain bikes due to the durable build, I’ve gotten used to how it handles over these last few months. The Ogre and I have made peace and I love it.
That said, I’d heard there was really good mountain biking in the area near Hurricane Utah from various friends over the years, so I wanted to ride the few extra miles West past Zion to see for myself. Just outside the national park I found the town of Virgin. most recently put on the map because it’s the site of the infamous Redbull Rampage. For those unfamiliar, it’s an extreme downhill mountain biking event in which each rider develops their own trail off of the top of a huge mesa outside of town (like the one pictured below), and are judged based on how big they go. This year’s event in September featured cliff drops nearing 50 feet, and gap jumps in the range of 80 feet. Needless to say that despite being inspired by entering a place of such extreme riding, I kept it a bit more toned down during my visit. These bones break before they bend.
Just after leaving Zion, I turned off the highway just before Virgin to climb up onto a slick rock mesa to ride the Guacamole trail. It was only about a 1000’ climb from the highway to get up there, but a difficult approach since the road was largely composed of very very loose, deep sand with hidden rocks underneath it. Impossible to see what was going to be hard versus soft, and very easy to wash out the front wheel and fall to one side or another. But so worth the effort, as the panoramic views atop the mesa were… pretty damn good.
Finally getting up onto the mesa, stunning views of Zion from the West were revealed, as the trail wiggled through sections of sand, dirt, slick rock, and loose rocky granite terrain.
Over the the 12 miles of rough riding, the route covered a surprising amount of variety in terms of views and terrain. Much of it was a fun and challenging course around, behind and at times over rock formations pictured above. I finished with only about 90 minutes to sunset, so decided to camp by a fire pit I found near the trailhead. It was one of the many times I’ve felt endlessly appreciative that I always carry an extra day of food and water with me if I’m drawn to stop in a special place, and that I have all the other things needed to survive with little planning at this point. So lovely to feel the contrast of seeing the same amazing peaks of Zion but from the perch of a huge mesa which I seemed to have entirely to myself. The night was silent, less a gentle breeze which would occasionally rustle my tent, or a piece of wood from the fire I built would pop or crack. The waxing moon lit up the valley before me just enough to see the contour of the canyons which surrounded my campsite. It was brilliant.
The following morning I packed up and descended down the canyon from my private mesa to reach the nearby town of Hurricane. Just outside of town I was hoping to ride a 21 mile loop known locally as the Hurricane Rim Loop. As I was getting directions from the local bike shop in town, someone behind me made a snide comment about the ride. I turned around to see my friend Jason, whom I’d met this Spring in Moab during a NOLS WFR training! Completely random as he doesn’t live anywhere near there! Having been told I should start the loop early before the trail was closed due to a race being held up there, I headed out to ride after a quick meal with Jason and his wife.
The trail route as posted on a kiosk somewhere along the way.
Looking across at Goosebury Mesa from the GEM trail
The trail stretched through beautiful landscapes, looking out at Zion again in the distance, and various other stunning mesas closer by.
At one point I came across this sign. Turns out the race was 25 hours of Frog Hollow race, one I’d heard about for years. I remembered how great of an experience I had hanging out at the 24 Hours of Light race up in Whitehorse, Yukon in June, so decided to ride back into town to get my stuff in order to camp with the racers that night. It happened to be be October 31st, so it was a wild night at the campground. Lots of beer. Lots of costumery. Lovely people. I even ran into a whole group of people I’d met up in Steamboat Springs at the Big Agnes corporate offices. This world seems to keep getting smaller!
The topic that was recurring through every conversation I had that night was the weather forecast. I’d not seen one drop of rain since entering Utah, but there was a forecast for very heavy rains throughout the entire race. Much of these trails are on loose, sandy surfaces which, when wet would turn into a sloppy muddy mess, especially with 4-500 riders running laps on them continuously for 25 hours. The following morning the clouds did not look good.
The race began, regardless of the the impending rain. Many riders were still in costume from the previous evening’s festivities. Some were also still drinking beer. 24 hour races seem to have a particular flavor to them. A combination of very very serious endurance athletes with very serious endurance drinkers, but everyone gets along famously.
I decided to push off, getting away from the long dirt roads I needed to cover to get out of the area. I was hoping to ride one more trail system, a very popular one called Gooseberry Mesa, but the weather sent me past it to avoid getting stuck in a muddy 8 mile approach. I jumped on the highway to make some tracks, now headed East for the first time since leaving Burning Man in Nevada.
A short dip into Arizona brought me into the town of Colorado City, Arizona. Known for a very high percentage of it’s population engaging in polygamy and very fast driving on the highway (to which I can attest), this stretch of road was described by some locals in Hurricane as the “Polyganapolis 500”. The town was a bit strange to me. Everyone seemed to dress the exact same, at least the women did. Plain long dresses or white blouses with some sort of long floral skirt. The repetition of this style amongst ALL the ladies I saw in town was curious to say the least…
I rode up a sandy dirt road outside Colorado City to camp at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, back across the state line into Utah. The soft rounded dunes are beautiful in contrast with the sharp layered cliffs around them. Upon waking, I realized it was Sunday. I had an important package I needed to pick up from a nearby post office on Monday, and not a whole lot of ground to cover to get there. I considered spending the day exploring the dunes, but really they weren’t calling to me all that much. While riding on towards the town of Kanab, I wondered if there was some way I could use this spare day to offer myself in service somehow….
Not 15 minutes after that thought, I saw this sign. It was… well, a sign! I had actually seen billboards for this place 70 miles North of here while on my way to Zion National Park. I wondered back then how a pet rescue place had the money to advertise, especially 70 miles away from their location on multiple billboards. My understanding is that most pet rescue shelters are extremely underfunded and cannot afford extra expenses. Either way, my curiosity was piqued and with the written suggestion of possibly volunteering I was drawn in.
It turns out this is no normal pet shelter. It’s the largest no-kill shelter in the United States, boasting approximately 1700 animals on site at any given time including horses, pigs, goats, rabbits, exotic birds, and of course dogs and cats. All animals are housed and taken care of on their 3300 acres of land in the beautiful Kanab Canyon, just North of Kanab Utah. They also promote the development of other shelters and animal adoption services nationwide. The front desk worker showed me a 20 minute video of their work and I was sold to stay for the day to help.
After a short orientation, the volunteer coordinator informed me she would be personally taking me out to lunch in their cafeteria as she wanted to interview me for a program they have featuring unusual volunteers. I guess the bike qualified me. We sat out on the balcony overlooking the Kanab Canyon as countless wild turkeys and deer passed before us (all part of the rescue efforts as well).
I was sent on to volunteer at the dog rescue area called Dogtown, which was featured in a recent television reality series under the same name. They house 500 dogs at a time here, and adopt out thousands per year. I was put to work walking various adult pups that needed exercise, then helped clean some of the stalls in the lush kennels they inhabited. A few hours later I was sent on my way with a volunteer pin and a tight chest, missing my own pup tremendously. I rode down into the canyon, hoping to explore it a bit before heading out in search of a campsite.
A mile down the road, still on Best Friends’ land, I saw this gate. It was of course the animal cemetery.
Thousands of beautifully constructed and decorated grave sites surrounded me with areas for horses, dogs, cats, pigs, rabbits and more. Wind chime trees with individual plaques for animals that had passed sprinkled the area. It was simultaneously a little bit funny to see so much go into a pet cemetery and at the same time so very touching to see how much these people cared about their animals. I guess people make reservations to come to this animal sanctuary months or years in advance. They rent cottages available on the property, and most of them volunteer to help with certain animals while here. Normally people have to reserve weeks in advance just to come volunteer for the day, but I was in luck that they just entered their slow season. The place has a rich history, and I’m so glad I happened upon it with the time to discover it’s magic.
That night I slept in the canyon beneath the animal sanctuary. Oddly instead of the familiar sounds of coyotes singing into the night. it was that of 500 dogs barking, woofing, and howling — their voices reverberating throughout the encircling canyon walls.